5 primary causes of picky eaters & solutions for each

Reasons why your child is not eating and what to do about it!

There are many reasons why a child may be a picky eater and choosier than usual at mealtime.  Listed below are some of the most common causes of picky eating and ideas for how to respond.  (Adapted from Lerner & Parlakian, 2007).

1. Some children are sensitive to the taste, smell or texture of food.  You can:

  • Offer several healthy food choices—among the foods your child does like—at each meal.
  • Gently but frequently offer new kinds of foods. Children need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it.
  • Track your child’s food sensitivities and keep them in mind when preparing meals.  Does your child have trouble with “mushy” foods?  Then offer apple slices instead of applesauce, or a baked potato instead of mashed.  If you’d like your child to try a “mushy” food, combine it with a crunchy food that she does like.  Give her an animal cracker to dip in the applesauce.
  • Talk to your child’s health care provider about any nutritional concerns you may have.

2. Some children are simply less likely to try new things based on their temperament—their individual way of approaching the world.  You can:

  • Put new foods next to foods your child already likes. Encourage him to touch, smell, lick, or taste the new food.
  • Avoid becoming a short-order cook and preparing special meals for your child.  But do make sure that at each meal, there is something he knows and likes on the plate.  Also give him what the rest of the family is eating in toddler-sized portions.  Over time, these choices will become as liked and familiar as her favorite mac-n-cheese.
  • Gently but frequently offer new kinds of foods. Children need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it.
  • Use healthy dips such as yogurt, hummus, ketchup or low-fat salad dressings to encourage children to eat fruits, vegetables, and meats.
  • Involve your child in preparing the meal (like dropping cut-up fruit into a bowl for fruit salad).  Handling, smelling and touching the food helps your child get comfortable with the idea of eating it.

3. Some children can seem “picky” because they want to feed themselves.  You can:

  • Offer safe “finger foods” that your child can feed herself.
  • Offer your child a spoon to hold while you’re feeding her. This lets her feel in control.
  • Let your child decide where foods go on her plate—the peas there, the turkey there.  If you’d like, you can also let your child serve herself (put your hand over hers to help her handle the bigger serving spoons).

4. Some children are very active.  They may seem picky because they don’t like sitting for long.  You can:

  • Set your child’s meal out before he sits down.
  • Keep mealtimes short—10 minutes or so.  Let your child get up when he indicates he is finished eating.
  • Put healthy foods, such as a bowl of strawberries or bananas, where your child can reach them so when he gets hungry he can easily get to good foods.

5. Some children have medical issues that make it difficult to swallow or digest certain foods.  You can:

  • Seek an evaluation by a health care provider.
Sometimes children need special help with feeding.